Or: Why a place looks so different the second time around
This trip, I insisted on seeing things. First Giant's Causeway, followed by a list of every conceivable point of interest that could be got to by bus, train, begged ride, or on foot. So I overpacked my (now put to rest) awkward Roots duffle bag with borrowed wool sweaters, three (!!) pairs of shoes, a hairdryer (with what will turn out to be the wrong adapter), a scrapbook for Neal, my jogging stuff (never to be taken out once), and an umbrella. For some reason, Neal doesn't own an umbrella. People in Belfast just walk around oblivious of the rain.
My trip there was a mad dash the wrong way across the country - from Montreal, to Ottawa, to Toronto... then on the plane to Halifax and finally on to Belfast. I was beat before we were even over the ocean. In the half-empty plane, I managed to get the entire 3-seat middle row to myself, until the loud Irish family in back of me started to spread out across the plane like leaky custard - first to the window seats on the left, then the right, then on the end of my row. I managed to lay claim to the seat right next to mine by sticking the in-flight magazine and safety manual all over it, but still the grungy son filled half the space with his elbow. I gave him a flight's worth of dirty looks over the top of my book.
From landing to seeing the light of day took an instant. I've never gone through customs so fast, and my bag thumped down the carrousel about 5th in line. Then a twist and a turn and before I was even ready there was Neal, just as surprised to see me so quickly. And so there I was, finally here.
Neal had booked us a space in the dorm at Queen's University (after a stern warning from the dormmistress that there'd be spot checks for shared accommodation) - a nasty, smelly little forgotten room with a snail crawling up the wall near the bed. It was the saddest looking place I'd ever seen, but it was cheap and it was central enough. With all the places we ended up staying, it was mostly a space to keep our luggage anyway.
The next morning we headed out extremely early for the 3-hour jouney up to Giant's Causeway. A trainride to Carrickfergus, a bus to Larne (a wreck of a small town), and then a long, bumpy journey up the Antrim Coast to the eighth wonder of the world. The trip alone was incredible: coastlines made of cliffs and pastures and crashing waves. Neal claimed to see a seal in the water watching the bus go by, and at some point I was fighting off nausea as the bus rolled up, down, bump, bump, bump along the teensiest of roads. But the Causeway was gorgeous. Not hugely spectacular, but quiet and vast and windy. I couldn't believe it: something like it, here at home, would be cornoned off and you'd need a ticket and a long wait in line before being allowed a glimpse of the place. But here it was just there, for anyone - free and left to grow wild. I loved it.
The weekend was spent in Donegal with Neal's brother and his girlfriend. The dang roads are aparently the same everywhere - haphasardly asphalted over rocks and cow poo and lord knows what else so that in the end you get a big bumpy mess that sets your stomach rolling. The scenery changed as we left North Ireland for Donegal - the green pastures and fluffy sheep turned into red-brown peat hills with crazy rams perched on the edge of cliffs to get at the grass. Philip drove us up the scariest dirt path in the world to the Slieve League cliffs, and I've never felt such wind in my life. Neal tells me German tourists are notorious for getting too close to the edge and tumbling over in the wind. The view is spectacular, almost terrifying. On the drive back home we stop at Rossnowlagh beach, where it's piss-pouring rain to the point where we can't even peak around the umbrella, yet the sun is out. It was the strangest felling - almost euphoric. I took a pic of 3 French surfers talking away in the rain, and a dog racing deliriously across the beach. Neal made a half-joking remark about the rainbow being our hope for the future, and we both laughed at how cheesy and true that sounded. It was probably the best moment I spent in Ireland.
After much shopping, time with parents, Neal getting some studying done and me reading away in coffee shops, we decide to spend our one free day with James in Fermanagh. James taught in Quebec with Neal all last year, so it was nice to meet up with someone he and I both knew. James picked us up in Enniskillin, and we went for breakfast before heading off to his parents' farm in the country. And what a farm! It was all something out of a Dick and Jane book - so lovely and untouched and almost 'quaint', although quaint doesn't do justice to how good and welcome and real it felt. James' mother was in the kitchen, this beautiful green linolium room with an old fashioned stove and a calendar on the wall, cooking scones and making tea for us. I felt like I'd gone back in time, and I felt at home. James took us on a tour of the farm (which I later, quite stupidly, told Canada Customs about)- the anti-social sheep, the moving pile of cows, the old abandoned house that Neal insisted on 'exploring'. He then drove us out to see two stubborn donkeys, a long row of abandoned houses, and a cemetery dating from just after 1000 AD. The tombstones had long ended up on the ground, but you could still decipher a face in one of them. I made some sort of respectful thank-you prayer for the opportunity to see such a sight - which was my way of giving myself permission to snap a pic of that too.
On Friday we got up early again for the longish trip to Dublin. Our reservations were at Marina House in Dun Laoghaire - a wonderful little hostel about 20 minutes out of the city centre. Due to some mix up, though, we ended up having to spend night 2 in the most unwelcoming litte farce of a B&B a little farther into the town. The first night Neal and I simply stayed in the town, though, and made our own supper for the first time the whole trip (minus the speed-eating incident in Donegal). The next night we met up with Phil (aka Pardus) who took us for a drink and then over to a nice little Italian place, where I had (at last! at last!) a salad for supper. What bliss not to have something fried staring up from my plate! The next morning Phil took us over to Kilmainham Goal (although not before we introduced him to Queen of Tarts - THE best cake shop in the world, like something out of a dream).
The whole weekend passed in a blur, with Monday always on the mind. Twelve days went by in a flash, and there we were back at the airport again, saying goodbye to counter the hello, counting the exact number of days till Christmas, and not really sure of what comes next after that. Just that there's always a next, when you really want it. So we just go with that. It's worked pretty good so far.